Commentary

Cowboys deliver vintage performance

Complete effort in win over defending champs sends message to rest of league

Updated: September 6, 2012, 12:57 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My team expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than our competition. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to help my team and to accomplish our goal.

I am never out of the FIGHT.

-- Excerpt from the Navy SEAL creed

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A strip of white athletic tape held a piece of paper with those words to the front of tight end Jason Witten's locker Wednesday at MetLife Stadium.

[+] EnlargeJason Witten
AP Photo/Bill KostrounJason Witten overcame a lacerated spleen to play in his 140th straight game and provide inspiration for the Cowboys.

It's just one of 13 paragraphs that make up the Navy SEAL creed, but it motivated Witten each time he read it or thought about it as he worked tirelessly to recover from a lacerated spleen in time to play in NFL Kickoff 2012.

Witten provided the inspiration for the Dallas Cowboys against the New York Giants, and his best friend, Tony Romo, supplied the leadership.

DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree -- yes, Kevin Ogletree -- delivered the big plays. Tyron Smith's hustle, Ryan Cook's tenacity and Rob Ryan's defense took care of the rest.

In a vintage performance reminiscent of the early '90s when the Cowboys dominated the NFL, these Cowboys delivered a message to a national television audience and the rest of the league.

They will be physical. They will overcome adversity. They will make plays and they won't wilt in the fourth quarter.

Cowboys 24, Giants 17.

Seriously, what objective observer saw that coming? Not many.

After all, there were too many questions about the Cowboys' rebuilt offensive line, and their pass rush was suspect. Plus, Witten and Ratliff -- two of their four best players -- were expected to miss the game. Witten played, but Ratliff didn't.

The Giants, the defending Super Bowl champions, had beaten the Cowboys in seven of their last nine meetings, including twice last season. And the defending league champions had been 5-0 in the NFL's opening-night game.

Not anymore.

"It was a medical decision all along," Jason Garrett said of Witten's availability. "This was not an emotional decision by me as a coach in any way shape or form, and I was clear with Jason from minute one when it happened. This was completely out of my hands.

[+] EnlargeMiles Austin
Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireMiles Austin's 34-yard touchdown reception gave the Cowboys a 24-10 lead in the fourth quarter.

"I thought his performance was as inspirational a performance as I've seen for a guy who's been awfully good and awfully inspiring for a lot of years in this league. He was determined to play."

Witten, who played 45 snaps, had as many penalties (two) as receptions (two), but his presence was more important than his production.

He made Romo more comfortable just being on the field, and he helped with the passing game because he often lined up on the same side as Ogletree. With the Giants focused on Witten, Ogletree caught eight passes for 114 yards and the first two touchdowns of his career.

But this was about more than Witten's commitment to the team and playing in his 140th consecutive game. This was about the Cowboys demonstrating a physical toughness they've rarely displayed.

Cornerback Brandon Carr, the $50 million free agent acquisition, and first-round pick Morris Claiborne played press coverage much of the night and kept 6-foot, 204-pound Victor Cruz and 6-foot-1, 208-pound Hakeem Nicks from finding a rhythm. The Giants duo combined for just 10 catches for 96 yards and no touchdowns.

Anthony Spencer played a strong game, especially against the run, and Sean Lee and DeMarcus Ware helped limit the Giants to just 269 yards of total offense.

The Cowboys also played with a mental toughness they've often lacked. Smith chased down Giants linebacker Michael Boley at the Dallas 2 after an interception, and the Giants eventually were forced to settle for a field goal.

Cook, acquired Friday, played all but three plays at center after Phil Costa left the game with a bad back. Cook did a solid job under difficult circumstances.

Garrett constantly preaches the importance of moving on to the next play, whether the previous one was good or bad. Defensive end Jason Hatcher provided the best example with Dallas clinging to a 17-10 fourth quarter lead.

Hatcher was called for a personal foul on third down for hitting Eli Manning in the head as he pressured him, giving the Giants an automatic first down. Three plays later, Hatcher sacked Manning on another third down.

The Giants punted and Romo drove the Cowboys 82 yards for a touchdown and a 24-10 lead.

"You have to keep playing and put the last play behind you and go to the next play," Garrett said. "The best players I've been around and the best teams I've been around have been able to do that.

"Sometimes, it's really easy to get frustrated and maybe try to do something out of the ordinary instead of just doing your job."

There was nothing fluky about the Cowboys' win.

Dallas had more first downs, more rushing yards, more passing yards and more total yards. The Cowboys held a nine-minute edge in time of possession and had a 100-yard receiver and a 100-yard rusher.

"It was a very significant win for our franchise," said Jerry Jones.

It's the reason the players and coaches left MetLife Stadium happy, but hardly satisfied.

They understand this is just the beginning.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

ALSO SEE